When the Obama administration announced in October of 2010 that solar panels would once again be installed on the White House by the following spring, environmentalists were thrilled. But the spring of 2011 came and went, as did the following two springs. This week in mid-August, however, the Washington Post received confirmation from an unnamed White House official that the solar panel installation is finally in progress.
“We applaud President Obama for, once again, leading by example,” SEIA President Rhone Resch said today in a statement. "Installing solar panels on the First Family’s official residence, arguably the most famous building in America, underscores the growing popularity of solar energy nationwide.”
The commitment to install between 20 and 50 solar panels on the White House has garnered praise from environmentalists who are hopeful that this highly-publicized move will facilitate the widespread adoption of solar energy.
“If it has anything like the effect of the White House garden, it could be a trigger for a wave of solar installations across the country and around the world,” said environmental activist Bill McKibben following the 2010 announcement.
In the late 1970s, the Carter administration installed 32 solar panels on the White House roof that were used to heat water. It was the midst of the Arab oil embargo that caused a national energy crisis, and President Jimmy Carter initiated a campaign to conserve energy while "setting an example for the American people," according to the White House Historical Association.
At the dedication ceremony in 1979, Carter declared: "In the year 2000 this solar water heater behind me, which is being dedicated today, will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy … A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people."
But the solar panels remained in place for less than a decade. President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, and disagreed with Carter’s energy policy. By 1986, the Reagan administration had eliminated tax breaks for the deployment of wind and solar technologies and dismantled the White House solar panels while the roof was being resurfaced, reports Scientific American.
In 2002, the National Park Service installed 167 solar panels on the roof of a maintenance building it manages on the White House turf. This array provides electricity for the White House grounds and heats the water in the presidential pool. However, the Bush administration left this small-scale return of solar power unpublicized.
But the Obama administration isn’t keeping its support for solar energy a secret. Since 2009, the administration has approved 25 utility-scale solar facilities, reveals Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. The administration implements a “landslide approach” when approving solar projects—carefully planning where to zone the best solar projects (in areas of abundant sunshine and access to transmission lines). During Obama’s climate action speech in June, he pledged that the federal government would generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2020.